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Biden announces Air Force Gen CQ Brown as his nominee for chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

Air Force Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. became the first black service chief in 2020.
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CQ Brown
Air Force Chief of Staff Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles Q. Brown, Jr. addresses students from Air War College and Air Command and Staff College at Air University. (Trey Ward/U.S. Air Force)

President Joe Biden announced on Thursday that he will nominate Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Charles “CQ” Brown Jr. to serve as the next chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

At a White House ceremony, Biden described Brown as “a warrior descended from a proud line of warriors,” noting that Brown’s father served as an Army colonel in Vietnam and his grandfather was an Army master sergeant who led a segregated unit during World War II.

“No matter how complicated the mission, from helping build and lead the coalition now more than 80 nations strong to counter ISIS threats in the Middle East, to positioning our Air Force for the future in the Indo-Pacific, Gen. Brown has built a reputation across the force as an unflappable and highly effective leader, and someone who creates an environment of teamwork, trust, and executes with excellence,” Biden said.

Biden also praised Brown for his ethos while serving as Air Force chief of staff: Accelerate change or lose.

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“With Gen. Brown as chairman, I know I’ll be able to rely on his advice as a military strategist and as a leader of military innovation, dedicated to keeping our armed forces the best in the world – and they are the best in the history of the world, and that’s a fact,” Biden said. “I will also be able to rely on him as a thoughtful and deliberate leader, who is unafraid to speak his mind, as someone who will deliver an honest message that needs to be heard, and who will always do the right thing when it’s hard. That’s the No. 1 quality a president needs in a chairman.”

Brown did not speak during Thursday’s White House ceremony.

CQ Brown
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. delivers a keynote speech at the Air and Space Forces Association 2023 Warfare Symposium in Aurora, Colo., March 7, 2023. (Eric Dietrich/U.S. Air Force)

If confirmed by the Senate, Brown would become the first black chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since Army Gen. Colin Powell, who held the job from 1989 to 1993.

Brown has been the Air Force’s top general since August 2020. He became the first black service chief in the military’s history after being confirmed by the Senate with a 98-0 vote.

He was commissioned in 1984 through Texas Tech University’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program, and went on to become an F-16 instructor at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School, according to his official biography.

Rated as a command pilot, Brown has more than 3,000 flight hours in F-16s and 20 other fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, including 130 combat hours.  Biden noted on Thursday that Brown earned his call sign “Swamp Thing” after being forced to eject from a burning F-16 over Florida’s Everglades in 1991.

Prior to becoming chief of staff, Brown led U.S. Air Forces Central Command and Pacific Air Forces. His military awards include the Bronze Star Medal, Defense Distinguished Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster, and Combat Readiness Medal.

In addition to dedicating his life to the Air Force, Brown is also an avid barbecue enthusiast, who loves smoking brisket, and baby back ribs. The Texas native has been cooking barbecues since his college days and he shared his personal recipe for brisket with Task & Purpose in a previous story.

Speaking to reporters shortly before Biden’s announcement, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin described Brown as “an incredibly capable and professional officer.”

“What he brings to the table – to any table – is that professionalism, that deep experience in warfighting,” Austin said during a Pentagon news conference. “I have personal knowledge of that. So, I think Gen. Brown is going to be a great officer in any capacity that he’s in.”

CQ Brown
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown, Jr. recites the Oath of Enlistment to members of the United States Air Force Delayed Enlistment Program at the Simmons Bank Liberty Stadium field, Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, in Memphis, Tennessee. (Ruth A. Medina-Villanueva/U.S. Air Force)

Should he be confirmed by the Senate, Brown would replace Army Gen. Mark Milley, who is scheduled to retire in October.

“I’ve known CQ, like Secretary Austin has, for a long time,” Milley said during Thursday’s Pentagon news conference. “He’s a great officer. In my personal view, he has all the knowledge, skills, and attributes to do this job, and he has the appropriate demeanor, and he’s got a great chemistry – obviously – with the president, the SECDEF [defense secretary] and others. So, CQ is absolutely superb, and I am looking forward to a speedy confirmation.”

But Sen. Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.) has slowed the promotion process for all general and flag officers – including Brown – by using a procedural maneuver to force the Senate to debate and vote on each nomination individually instead of en masse.

Tuberville’s move is meant to protest a Pentagon policy enacted after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, under which the military will pay for service members to travel for abortion care if they are stationed in a state where it is illegal for them to have access to reproductive care.

“I’m a man of my word,” Tuberville wrote in a commentary for the Washington Times. “I will drop my holds as soon as Secretary Austin suspends his memo providing military funds and resources to facilitate unrestricted abortions. The burden is not on me to undo an illegal policy. The burden is on the Biden administration to follow the law.”

Biden is nominating Brown to become the nation’s top-ranking service member at a time when the Defense Department is focused on how to deter – and, if necessary, defeat – China.

China has the largest navy in the world and Navy leaders have warned that it might try to invade Taiwan in 2027, if not sooner.

Chinese military
Chinese soldiers quickly get out of their cars to take up positions in Jiangxi, China, January 29, 2023. (CFOTO/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, China doubled its nuclear arsenal to more than 400 warheads between 2020 and 2022 and it is expected to have 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035, according to the Defense Department’s latest report on Chinese military power.

In August 2021, Brown said that the Air Force risked losing a war against China unless it made sure it has the right size and that it has the right type of aircraft needed to deal with the strategic challenge posed by China.

“If we do not modernize to provide air power anytime, anywhere we are at risk of losing our most precious assets, our airmen, soldiers, sailors, Marines and guardians,” Brown said at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Brown’s experience leading Pacific Air Forces will help the U.S. military’s leadership transition from past counterinsurgency efforts to making changes needed to counter any potential aggression from China, said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. David Deptula, dean of the Air Force Association’s Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies think tank.

Even though 70% of the Indo-Pacific region is covered by water, all of it is covered by airspace, so U.S. airpower would play a key role in any military operations in the region, Deptula told Task & Purpose on Thursday.

“While many describe the Indo-Pacific region as a maritime theater, the way to conquer the tyranny of distance in the Pacific is not by using ships going 20 knots or less, but by using aircraft going 600 knots or more,” Deptula said. “They are faster, provide more coverage, they are more responsive, carry more munitions, and are more versatile.” 

(Task & Purpose photo illustration)

Brown’s nomination also comes as several Republican lawmakers have accused the U.S. military of focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts rather than warfighting. Accusations that the Defense Department has somehow gone “woke” have become key Republican cudgel against the Biden administration.

Amid relentless Republican criticism, the Defense Department has backed off efforts to identify and separate extremists in the ranks. The military had initially vowed to tackle extremism after veterans and current service members were among the crowd that stormed the U.S. capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn the presidential election.

Shortly before the Senate confirmed him as Air Force Chief of staff, Brown made a powerful Twitter video about the death of Georg Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, in which Brown discussed his own experiences with racism.

“I’m thinking about wearing the same flight suit with the same wings on my chest as my peers and being questioned by another military member ‘are you a pilot?’” Brown said. “I’m thinking about how I sometimes felt my comments were perceived to represent the African American perspective, when it’s just my perspective informed by being African American.”

He recalled how he felt pressure to avoid making any errors and work twice as hard to prove that his supervisors’ preconceived notions about black service members were invalid.

Brown said he considered his nomination to become Air Force chief of staff a sign of hope, but it also came with a heavy burden. He also said he wanted to have the wisdom and knowledge to lead and listen to difficult conversations on racism as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“I can’t fix centuries of racism in our country, nor can I fix how decades of discrimination may have affected members of our Air Force,” Brown said. “I’m thinking about how I can make improvements – personally, professionally, and institutionally – so that all airmen, both today and tomorrow, appreciate the value of diversity and can serve in an environment where they reach their full potential.”

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